Why Alaska is Home to America's Easternmost Point

Semisopochnoi Island, top right, is the easternmost point of the United States.
Semisopochnoi Island, top right, is the easternmost point of the United States.
Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon (NASA Earth Observatory) using Landsat data provided by the United States Geological Survey, via Wikimedia Commons. // Public Domain

In the contiguous United States, the farthest east anyone can travel without tripping into the ocean is the lighthouse at West Quoddy Head, Maine (coordinates: 44.815ºN 66.951ºW). But this beautiful spot at the northeastern tip of the Pine Tree State is not actually the easternmost point of the United States. That designation belongs, curiously, to a state that is considered part of America's west—Alaska.

While most of the United States is firmly planted in the globe's western hemisphere, America happens to possess plenty of islands and territories on the eastern half of the planet: Saipan, Guam, and Wake Island to name a few. All of these Pacific islands sit on the other side of the 180th meridian, which separates the eastern hemisphere from west, and are technically east of the mainland United States.

(Guam, an American territory with more than 150,000 American citizens, likes to boast about its eastern location, billing itself as the place where "America's Day Begins"—though, technically, that distinction goes to Wake Island. Located on the opposite side of the International Date Line, Guam sees sunrise 15 hours before New York City.)

Yet Guam (coordinates: 13.444°N, 144.793°E) is not the easternmost point of the United States either. That honor resides with an uninhabited Aleutian Island called Semisopochnoi.

Translated from Russian, Semisopochnoi means "having seven hills." It sits about 10 miles from the 180th meridian, making it America's most eastern piece of real estate in the eastern hemisphere (coordinates: 51.960°N, 179.772°E). "In other words," Ken Jennings writes for CN Traveler, "Semisopochnoi and the dozen or so Aleutian islands lying beyond it are so far west that they're actually east!" Of those, Semisopochnoi is the closest to the 180th degree longitude.

Today, this volcanic island in Alaska is home to millions of seabirds, mainly a penguin-like critter called the auklet. It's also heavily monitored by volcanologists, "likely due to its location under prominent trans-Pacific flight route," WIRED reports.

And the pedantic geography fun facts don't stop there! Since the Aleutian Islands cross the 180th meridian, they happen to contain the easternmost and westernmost spots in the United States: the latter honor belongs to the small island of Amatignak (coordinates: 51.270°N, 179.119°W), which is part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

All told, the distance between the easternmost and westernmost points in the United States is just 71 miles.

The World’s Steepest Street Is in Harlech, Wales

Tonktiti/iStock via Getty Images
Tonktiti/iStock via Getty Images

It wasn’t by chance that Ffordd Pen Llech just clinched the Guinness World Record for the world’s steepest street: The townspeople of Harlech, Wales, worked hard to steal the recognition from Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand.

At its steepest point, the gradient of the street in Wales is 37.5 percent, beating out Baldwin Street’s 35 percent. “I feel sorry for Baldwin Street and the New Zealanders,” Gwyn Headley, who spearheaded the campaign, told The Guardian, “But steeper is steeper.”

Guinness World Records has a surprising 10 criteria for the honor, including a blueprint of the street in question. This was the toughest for Harlech residents, because the thousand-year-old road was there long before roads were planned out with blueprints. So surveyor Myrddyn Phillips created one from scratch, using a satellite dish and chalk to calculate every possible measurement. Another criterion is that the road must actually be used by both people and vehicles. This one was easy, considering it leads to Harlech Castle, a UNESCO Heritage Site that was built over 700 years ago.

Having just lost to England in the Cricket World Cup, New Zealand is having a rough month—which Headley does feel bad about. “At least they have the Rugby World Cup … for the moment,” she said.

Because of its opportunities for bikers, motorcyclists, and other thrill seekers, Baldwin Street has become something of a tourist destination, which Dunedin residents have capitalized on by establishing nearby food, drink, and souvenir shops. Since the street is just as steep as it was before losing the world record, it’ll likely still function as a tourist attraction. But the townspeople are understandably disappointed, and one even suggested resurfacing it to increase the gradient.

In the meantime, Harlech is planning a party. “We know the anticipation has been building for quite some time now and I’m pleased to see the outcome has brought such joy to the residents,” Guinness World Records Editor-in-Chief Craig Glenday told The Guardian. “I hope Harlech enjoys the celebrations and that the new title brings lots of people to the beautiful town.”

[h/t The Guardian]

Themed Geography Grab Bag Quiz

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER